WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – Alex Ovechkin was understandably distraught after the Caps failed to register on the scoreboard in an embarrassing Game Seven defeat to the Rangers Monday night, a sentiment he vocalized to one reporter following his team’s dismissal from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But his team wasn’t just embarrassed at home; they were shut out, 5-0, with their season on the line, bludgeoned to their playoff death in a game that was hauntingly reminiscent of their 2009 playoff exit by the hand of the Penguins.
After winning the first two games at home, the Caps has their fans reinvigorated, yet still reserved, and cautious of the impending doom that seems to hang over every Washington sports teams like a black cloud in postseason play.
And two games later: BOOM! Their caution was validated.
The Rangers climbed back into the series, reminding Washington there are no easy victories when facing a goaltender capable of standing on his head.
And just like that, Henrik Lundqvist got hot.
In Games Five, Six, and Seven, he stopped 95 of 97 shots on goal.
But griping from Caps players would have you believe the officiating was to blame for their sudden inability to put the puck in the net.
And Ovechkin even said as much, after the Caps implosion Monday night.
“The refereeing… You understand it yourself. How can there be no penalties at all (on one team) during the playoffs?
“I am not saying there was a phone call from (the league), but someone just wanted Game 7. For the ratings. You know, the lockout, escrow, the League needs to make profit… I don’t know whether the refs were predisposed against us or the League. But to not give obvious penalties (against the Capitals), while for us any little thing was immediately penalized…”
From the time the Caps claimed the first two victories to take an early 2-0 series lead, officiating was undoubtedly slanted in New York’s favor, with the Rangers getting 21 power play opportunities to Washington’s nine.
By numbers alone, you could justify one-sided calls making a difference in two pivotal Rangers victories – Game Three and Game Four – in which New York’s two conversions on ten power play opportunities would give them the edge in each 4-3 outcome.
But with New York failing to convert on any power plays the remainder of the series, the case can be made that officiating was no longer a factor after Game Four. And yet, the Caps would still only emerge victorious in one of the final three games.
So to Ovechkin’s point, there is proof to support his conspiratorial claim that the league wanted the Caps and Rangers to go the distance, but that evidence doesn’t excuse Washington scoring just two goals in the last three games of the series. It doesn’t excuse Washington failing to convert eight of its own nine power play opportunities through the last five games.
And it certainly doesn’t excuse the Caps getting blanked 5-0 at home with their season on the line.
Nothing, except an inefficient offense excuses that type of performance.
This refusal of responsibility isn’t the type of leadership one would expect from a Captain in his team’s weakest hour. Frustration is one thing – an emotion the Rangers are experts at evoking in their opponents – but pointing the finger at “the league” to avoid looking inward is quite another, and indicative of a team that can’t overcome the opening two rounds of the playoffs.
Just as all great stars must learn to evolve their game, the Caps needed to evolve past their power play bread and butter to defeat Lundqvist, and they could not.
And as was the case in so many previous playoff heartbreaks for the Washington Capitals, running into a hot goaltender was their ultimate undoing, not the officiating.
Failing to recognize that is inexcusable.